House Democrats, Senate Republicans far apart – for now – on voter ID reforms

Last modified: 6/11/2013 10:55:52 AM
When Democrats won control of the House last fall, rolling back or repealing the state’s new voter ID law was one of their priorities. But the Senate’s Republican majority has so far thwarted that plan, with just weeks left to reach some sort of compromise.

“I always hope that people can come to compromise, and I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to compromise on this issue – although the history has not been very successful in terms of compromise on this issue,” said Rep. Gary Richardson of Hopkinton, the Democratic floor leader in the House.

The Democratic-led House in March passed a bill, largely along party lines, that rolled back the voter ID law enacted last year by the GOP-controlled Legislature over a veto from then-Gov. John Lynch.

Democrats said the law requiring voters to either present a photo ID or swear an affidavit makes it harder for students, the elderly and others to vote in New Hampshire, however, they hoped to compromise with the Senate in order to avoid repealing the law entirely. Instead, they sought to block changes that will go into effect this September: a shorter list of acceptable forms of identification that doesn’t include student IDs and a requirement that voters without ID be photographed by election workers.

But Republicans said they were wary of weakening a law intended to prevent voter fraud and ensure fair elections. The GOP-led Senate last month rewrote the House’s bill, rejecting a half-dozen Democratic floor amendments and passing the legislation along party lines.

The Senate’s version leaves in place the shorter list of IDs starting this fall and retains the photo-taking requirement, though in a concession delays the latter provision until 2015. (The secretary of state’s office has estimated that buying cameras and printers for polling places will cost nearly $82,000, plus maintenance and personnel expenses.)

To try to reconcile the two versions of the bill, the Senate tomorrow is expected to appoint negotiators to a committee of conference. Speaker Terie Norelli, a Portsmouth Democrat, last week named Richardson to lead the House negotiators.

“I certainly will try my best to work out a compromise,” Richardson said.

Sen. David Boutin, a Hooksett Republican and chairman of the Senate Public and Municipal Affairs Committee, said Senate Republicans will listen to whatever proposals are offered by House Democrats.

But he didn’t predict whether they’d come to an accord.

“I’m confident of this: We’ll have a good discussion, debate, and the Senate will do its best to try to persuade the House that its position is the best position and the House will do the same,” Boutin said. “And we’ll see where it goes from there.”

Committees of conference are required to finish their work by June 20. Assuming the two sides agree on a final version, the bill would then go back to the House and Senate for final votes before heading to Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan.

But in the case of the voter ID legislation, “they’re very, very different bills,” said Joan Flood Ashwell, an election law specialist for the League of Women Voters of New Hampshire, which has been a vocal opponent of the voter ID law.

“Of course, we hope they can resolve something,” she said. “But I don’t think the Senate has left – from their statements, they haven’t left a lot of room for negotiating.”

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

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